Modern fishing vessels and factory trawlers use conveyor belts to process their catch quickly and efficiently. Conveyor belts move fresh-caught fish into the processing areas of a factory ship, then whisk frozen seafood in and out of the cargo compartments. The belts help commercial fishermen perform difficult and time-consuming tasks faster and with more productivity. However, maritime workers face a multitude of dangers and risks while working around conveyor belts, and in many instances, it’s the direct negligence and carelessness of the maritime workers’ employers and/or the vessel owner that places them at the highest risk for conveyor belt injuries.
The Dangers From Conveyor Belts
Working around shipboard conveyor belts is an arduous and dangerous job, and hundreds of maritime workers are injured or killed every year. Conveyor belts consist of a number of pulleys, one or more which are powered, and a continuous loop of material that rotates around them. The types of conveyor belts used on fishing vessels and factories have a number of moving parts that can catch on a worker’s clothes or limbs, thus making them dangerous to work around.
Because of the high-risk conditions, conveyor belts have certain safety features intended to prevent injury, They are often equipped with a series of trip cords along their length to allow workers to shut the belts down in case of an emergency. In addition, ships are equipped with warning horns or sirens that go off to notify workers that the conveyor belts are about to be activated.
Nevertheless, accidents still occur. In January of 2014, a New Zealand fisheries observer, Martin Bowers, was severely injured while inspecting a Korean fishing vessel. Bowers’ arm was pulled from its socket and his forearm was mutilated so seriously that it had to be amputated. In another severe conveyor belt accident, a fisherman aboard a Norwegian fishing trawler on the Barents Sea was killed when his jacket was caught in the conveyor belt’s drive shaft. The fisherman was trapped for nearly 15 minutes. The fisherman was unable to breathe because his jacket was pulled down forcefully in the direction of the inclined conveyor belt.
These incidents are among the hundreds of accidents involving maritime workers and conveyor belts that occur every year as a result of negligence and a lack of safe operating procedures.
Common Reasons for Conveyor Belt Injuries
- Improper Guarding: Machinery at the end of conveyor belts should have sufficient guarding rails in order to prevent injuries. In some instances, conveyor belts only have waist-high handrails to guard the machinery, making it easy for a crew member to slip or come into the contact with the conveyor belt.
- Improper Training: It’s the employer’s responsibility to ensure that every person that works around a conveyor belt undergoes the proper training before beginning any tasks. If crew members are not trained correctly, careless mistakes are made, such as reaching for objects on the conveyor belt by hand, wearing loose clothing that gets wedged, and trying to free up stalled rolls while the belt is still moving.
- Failure to Provide Adequate Maintenance: Broken parts or parts not installed correctly is another reason for numerous conveyor built injuries. Again, it’s typically the employer and/or manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure that everything is in working order at all times.
Legal Rights For Workers Injured by Conveyor Belts
Maritime workers have the legal right to work in and around safe, operable equipment on a seaworthy vessel. A vessel may be considered unseaworthy if the conveyor belt doesn’t have the proper guarding or if any of the parts are broken or missing. Additionally, all workers, by federal law, must be properly trained regarding safety issues before working around conveyors belts. If any of these rights are denied, workers can practice their rights under Federal Maritime Law, which provides compensatory damages for injuries, lost wages, and more.